Review: Rise of the Wolf – Steven A McKay

5 of 5 stars

Series: The Forest Lord 3

My version: Paperback
Historical Fiction Robin Hood
Self published

Sir Guy of Gisbourne is back!

Bent on vengeance against Robin Hood and with a turncoat new lieutenant in tow, an unlikely new hero must stand up for herself…

Yorkshire, England, 1323 AD

The greenwood has been quiet and the outlaws have become complacent, but the harsh reality of life is about to hit the companions with brutal, deadly force thanks to their old foe, Prior John de Monte Martini.

From a meeting with King Edward II himself, to the sheriff’s tournament with its glittering prize, the final, fatal, showdown fast approaches for the legendary Wolf’s Head.

New friends, shattered loyalties, and a hate-filled hunter that threatens to wipe out not only Robin’s companions but his entire family will all play their part in the Rise of the Wolf.

I think that in these days of writers being ‘brave’ and taking Robin Hood and changing him, it’s actually brave(r) to have a writer incorporating so many of the traditional legends into their story. Angus Donald took his Robin Hood very much away from the traditional, and thereby created his own legend. Steven, at least on the face of it, sticks more to the well-trodden forest paths of Robin and Sherwood (though, Yorkshire?). Which, as I said above, as we all ‘know’ what Robin Hood did and why, it’s surely easier to pick holes in a story that doesn’t quite serve up what we know, rather than one that goes a whole different way? Which is why, I think anyway, Steve’s choice is perhaps the braver. But he’s far from just up-dating the traditional tales for a 21st Century market. He’s having a good look at what made Robin into Robin Hood. If you remember the recent version of Casino Royale, James Bond spends the film going through the process of becoming James Bond. Only at the very end, when he says to Mr White ‘Bond, James Bondis he Bond. So it is here.

Robin is a young lad, from a strong family background, maturing into the role of outlaw leader, and father figure. For the family he’s come from, for the family of his own he is creating and for the family of outlaws he has assumed leadership of. Family, that’s the word. He’s maybe not trying to re-create what he had as a boy, or didn’t have, but to forge his own, with Matilda, with the other outlaws. With family of course come responsibilities. Which Robin has learned over time to shoulder. The bonds between family members also need work, need to be unbreakable – and that’s where his relationship with the outlaws is heading. It was started last time out with The Wolf and the Raven, here he warms to the task, challenged by old enemies and new problems.

As with the family theme, this isn’t just about Robin Hood and no one else. The rest of the characters defy their ‘minor’ role. They’re not just here to make up the numbers, or be beamed down with red shirts on… Especially the women. Those who were expected to stay home and mind the house, the farm, the cattle, the sheep, the harvest the food, while the men ran off into Sherwood and played outlaw. There needed to be very strong women characters in the Fourteenth Century, and Steven gives them to us. Giving Rise of the Wolf a whole new special edge for me.

It’s a very open and accessible Robin Hood. No, I’m not entirely sure what that means either. Maybe that the story telling style makes it easy to get involved in the story and get close to the characters. Understand them, their problems, their reasoning, their situation and their motives All in all, very easy to get all caught up in, caring way too much and fist-pumping at the ‘right’ result. Great stuff!

You can buy Rise of the Wolf in assorted formats, mainly at Amazon

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

Review: The Death of Robin Hood – Angus Donald

the-death-of-robin-hood-angus-donald5 of 5 stars

The Outlaw Chronicles 8

My version:
Historical Fiction Robin Hood
Bought, signed

England rebels

War rages across the land. In the wake of Magna Carta, King John’s treachery is revealed and the barons rise against him once more. Fighting with them is the Earl of Locksley – the former outlaw Robin Hood – and his right-hand man Sir Alan Dale.

France invades

When the French enter the fray, with the cruel White Count leading the charge, Robin and Alan must decide where their loyalties lie: with those who would destroy the king and seize his realm or with the beloved land of their birth.

A hero lives forever

Fate is inexorable and death waits for us all. Or does it? Can Robin Hood pull off his greatest ever trick and cheat the Grim Reaper one last time just as England needs him most?

Well, if you can get to the other end of this book and still see to read the historical note, without blinking away the moisture that suddenly seems to be in your eyes, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

That feeling when what you’re reading transcends a genre to speak directly to your heart, some how managing to sum up exactly what you feel. I’ll never read anything better than those last few pages.

It’s perfection. It’s the only way it could have been. It’s fictional, yet it’s so, so real. I don’t want to read another book. I don’t want to be brought down to earth. I want to be where Alan is, with Robin and Little John, and Goody and Tilda and all of them. Forever.

I’ve been put through the wringer. Emotions welling up and unashamedly bursting out. Isn’t it strange what black ink squiggles on a white page can do to you? How just one of the infinite ways of arranging the words can strike you so perfectly. How one line can sum up all that has gone before in eight volumes and be so perfectly, fittingly final. How much you the reader bring to a work. How much an author unknowing of you and your life or current circumstances, can see in to your head and heart and write it for you to read.

I’m not ashamed to say I had to stare out the window, lost in the real and imaginary world and shed a tear for all those friends, real and fictional, now departed.

I thought that this review would pretty much be a review of the series as a whole, without too much specific about The Death of Robin Hood. I thought Angus had perhaps peaked with The King’s Assassin and the final, ‘old Alan’ passages of King’s Man (I think it was). Boy, am I wrong. Nothing can have prepared me for the absolute flawless final chapter of the series. Yes, I knew it was actually going to contain the death of Robin Hood (!) in one form or other and I had wondered how Angus would do it. I had a kind of scenario working away as I read. However, I’m a useless sod. I had no inkling it would be this way. This right.

It’s a lot of responsibility this book has, to round off a series as ambitious as The Outlaw Chronicles. It does it, it pulls it off and then some. I suddenly got more of an idea of how much Robin had really meant to Alan. And of course, how much losing him meant. And how much Alan meant to Robin. By saying “I will never leave you,” Robin neatly reverses what Alan has always promised his lord. Robin, behind the scenes, always, sometimes unknowingly, valued Alan much more than we ever realised and always had Alan’s back. Alan needed someone, some thing, to believe in all the way through. Of course, given the period, there was God, but he also always had his lord, Robin Hood. Robin also always believed in Alan. The two became one. And so, if Angus has done nothing else with his superb series, he has surely, for future generations – when they think Robin Hood, they also think Alan Dale.

A deeply moving book, and above all, a perfect end to the series. Heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, uplifting, hopeful, perfection. Could not be better.

You can buy The Death of Robin Hood at

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

OutlawKing's Man 2The King's Assassin

Review: The Wolf and the Raven by Steven A. McKay

the-wolf-and-the-raven5 of 5 stars

The Forest Lord 2

My version:
Fiction Historical, Middle Ages, Robin Hood
Self published

In the aftermath of a violent rebellion, Robin Hood and his men must fight for survival with an enemy deadlier than any they’ve faced before…

1322. England is in disarray and Sir Guy of Guisbourne, the king’s own bounty hunter, stalks the greenwood, bringing bloody justice to the outlaws and rebels who hide there.

When things begin to go horribly wrong, self-pity, grief and despair threaten to overwhelm the young wolf’s head who will need the support of his friends and family now more than ever. But Robin’s friends have troubles of their own and, this time, not all of them will escape with their lives…

First of all, this book, as the one before, screams quality, from the first moment you pick it up. Available as a self published paperback, it is one of the best looking, best feeling books you’ll ever own. It’s got a good weight to it as well. And then what’s inside will have you leaning back in your chair with a ‘yes’ playing on your lips. That sort of thing.

This is what I’m getting from Steven’s writing of the book(s) so far.

The character of Robin, is very much front and centre in The Forest Lord books, as opposed to Angus Donald’s ‘Outlaw Chronicles’ series – which are, of course, actually about Alan Dale. Steven’s Robin is not as primal a figure as I found Angus’ Robin in the first book, Outlaw. Angus’ Robin at that stage, perhaps comparable to the stage we’re at with Steven’s Robin here, was a man of the forest, a man of the old heathen ways, a Green Man. He was the result of hundreds of years of folk law and tradition, and as primeval as can be. Steven McKay’s Robin is a much more normal (for the time), Robin. A young man coming to terms with who he is, what he is, who and what he must be to survive and ensure the survival of his friends and families. He’s getting closer to finding himself in this book, as the perfectly understandable ‘rabbit in the headlights’ Robin of the first book, settles down and the magnitude of the task ahead becomes more and more obvious. It’s the story of a boy, filling out, growing into the role history has given him, slowly finding the strength and leadership needed to be the bearer of the hopes of the people around him.

The Forest Lord series, features the usual supporting cast, those who are normally the supporting cast, those you ‘know’ were Robin’s band. What is done with the characters, is interesting too. Here, I felt, they were given equal billing to Robin. They are all equally as interesting, each with their own background and reasons for being who and where they are. There are no clichés here, which it would have surely been very easy to fall into, resulting in a live action Disney feel. None of that. Steven’s Guy of Gisbourne is an excellent creation. He is truly nasty, thoroughly without scruples and absolutely perfectly written. Dark and deadly, more so than I’ve seen before and all the more interesting for that.

Speaking of writing, it’s an easy writing style to get into and very, very hard to come away from. Once we’re deep in Sherwood forest, we’re deep in ‘can’t put it down’ territory. It’s not a ‘no frills’ style, it’s an addictively objective style, that lets the story and the aims come forward, the characters shine through. One of the aims is clearly to entertain, that it does in abundance. There’s just the right amount of everything. Tension, action, pathos, excitement. The plot all holds together, there are no plot twists based on coincidences, the book delivers on all fronts, with style and content.

If you were perhaps thinking Robin Hood had been done to death, had gone everywhere it was possible to go, think again. Steven McKay’s Robin is full of vigour, youthful energy and promise for the future.

You can buy The Wolf and the Raven from Amazon

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

Wolf's HeadOutlaw

Review: Wolf’s Head by Steven A. McKay

Wolf's Head
An earthy: 5
 out of 5 stars

My version:
Historical Fiction, Medieval England.
Self published
Bought from The Book Depository

England 1321 AD

After viciously assaulting a corrupt but powerful clergyman, Robin Hood flees the only home he has ever known in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Becoming a member of a notorious band of outlaws, Hood and his new companions – including John Little and Will Scaflock – hide out in the great forests of Barnsdale, fighting for their very existence as the law hunts them down like animals.

When they are betrayed and their harsh lives become even more unbearable, the band of friends seeks bloody vengeance.

Meanwhile, the country is in turmoil, as many of the powerful lords strive to undermine King Edward II’s rule until, inevitably, rebellion becomes a reality and the increasingly deadly yeoman outlaw from Wakefield finds his fate bound up with that of a Hospitaller Knight…

Well, just when I was thinking I was all Robin Hooded-up, this comes along, grabs me by the Sherwoods and refuses to let go.

From the start, it’s clear that this will be a much more traditional Robin Hood the Angus Donald’s re-imagining. While the superb first volume of The Outlaw Chronicles was (partly) of necessity based in and around Sherwood and England in general, Alan Dale and the increasingly peripheral as the series progressed Robin, soon returned to their French/Norman roots and embarked on a series of day trips, long weekends and several volumes of adventures, in the Holy Land, in France, France and lost in France…anywhere but England, it seemed.

We meet this Robin in his home town in England before he becomes an outlaw and immediately it is clear he is much more down to earth and, I feel, closer to the legend and therefore closer to our sympathies. I identified with ‘Wolf’ Robin immediately – despite the 700-odd years between us. He’s a worried, frightened, unsure – he is very young at the start – character, just been run out of town after his temper and sense of justice ran away with him. Never a good idea when your life is not your own in medieval England. Never a good idea at any point in history, if you live in Yorkshire (as I did for 26 years, for anyone picking up their pen right now). Robin begins as a typically well-balanced Yorkshireman, with a chip on both shoulders and joins an already existing outlaw group. Almost without trying, his natural skills with all things heavy and sharp, coupled with uncanny leadership qualities for someone so young, begin to cause problems and jealousy with the existing management and he finds himself thrust into the leadership of the band almost without wanting to.

The story is excellently presented, there’s a good solid flow to the whole, not so neatly tied up that you think it’s too polished for its own good and not so rough, that you dismiss it. I’m still thinking about it and the possibilities now, long after I’ve finished it. The character of Robin is full of grit, interesting potential and the other characters are in no way second fiddles, well-written and clearly going to be contributing much in future stories. The whole is, as I think I’m trying to say, really pleasantly down to earth and believable. It didn’t happen like this (it’s unlikely Robin existed, if you ask me), but reading this, you will feel like it could have. If it did, it’d have been like this. There’s a reality to the story and the writing. Horrible word, but ‘organic,’ maybe Steven had the mulch of Sherwood on his fingers when he wrote the story? He’s not going to like me for this…but…this sums it up quite nicely “In touch with the ground, I’m on the hunt I’m after you, Smell like I sound, I’m lost in a crowd…And I’m hungry like the wolf” as the great Duran Duran once put it.

There are a few rough edges. There on (for example) P65 (which should be a right-hand page) Matilda may well have “kneed him playfully in the bollocks” were I describing the incident to a mate in the pub. But not in a book. When it isn’t part of a character’s conversation or thoughts. Stuff like that needs looking at, but not much else.

Did we need another interpretation of the Robin Hood legend? Well, if it’s this one we’re talking about, the answer is a massive ‘yes!’ For me, this was just what I needed, after Angus Donald’s stories went off the Sherwood rails. He took his stories ‘up-market’ I felt, away from Sherwood, away from England for the most part and, as they primarily concern Alan Dale, away from the Robin Hood we know and loved. Fortunately – for me – the ‘Wolf’ series, looks likely to continue having Robin Hood front and centre. Long may they continue.


Buy Wolf’s Head at The Book Depository

Related Review:
Outlaw by Angus Donald

Me, on Goodreads 

Review: The Iron Castle – Angus Donald

The Iron CastleThe Iron Castle by Angus Donald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Angus Donald’s ‘Outlaw Chronicles’ books have all been great reads. Well-written, exciting, action-packed and exactly what I want from my Historical Fiction.

There is a problem, however. They’re NOT about Robin Hood. Not even half about Robin Hood. Robin Hood is in the books, but in the background. We don’t follow him, we follow Alan. It’s Alan’s thought’s we are party too, not Robin’s. And Robin would probably have been the more interesting character, even going by the walk-on parts he has had. It is Robin’s thoughts and (perhaps) inner turmoils that I think would have been more interesting. Not just to me, but to your ordinary book-buying reader. If you’re going to sell it as a re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend, you really should feature Robin Hood a bit more. He has got a life away from Alan, of that there is little doubt, it’s just that we learn precious little about it. Obviously that is because it enables Angus’ Robin to move, unseen behind the scenes and pop up just when he is (or isn’t, dependant on what sort of scrape Alan has got himself in to) wanted. So, I ask some people what they think of when they think of Robin Hood. As I live in Denmark, those people are Danes. Even less knowledge of Robin Hood of legend, or with an outsider’s, objective view, you take your pick. Robin Hood? “Something about a forest in England and taking from the rich, giving to the poor” (I’m translating here) was the general consensus here at work the other day. One of the nurses who had lived over in England, could remember him having lived in Nottingham. “France?” “Eh?”

Angus promised much with the first book Outlaw and Nelson DeMille was right with his quote on the cover of the paperback version I have here: “Angus Donald has made everyone’s favourite outlaw a lot more interesting…” He was, in Outlaw. He isn’t, in the majority of the books after that. He can’t be, he isn’t in them enough. What Angus created in Outlaw I thought, was a really different, reconstructed, Green Man Robin. Caustic, earthy, as in of the earth, harsh though fair (of course) and interesting. He is a hero for people who needed one. A direct descendant of the King Arthur tales, a pre-Saxon hero, a summation of hopes, and pagan folk legends made flesh. Now, six books in, he’s swearing his allegiance to the King – by his faith in God, for goodness’ sake. It was a great start. But I would venture that many a reader has rushed through Outlaw, then bought book two Holy Warrior and thought “Hang on, this is supposed to be about Robin Hood! And he isn’t in it!” Well, he is, but more in name, than deed. And Alan and Robin aren’t in Sherwood either, not even in England much after Outlaw. Maybe Angus worked on the ‘you can take the boy out of Sherwood, but you can’t take Sherwood out of the boy’ principle. On that level, it would have worked a treat, kind of. If it had have been the two (or three or four, as it was at that point) outlaws taking their Sherwood nous to fight in the Holy Land – that would have been an interesting project to have explored. But by the time they embark, they are no longer outlaws, no longer forest-dwellers, but are gentry, Knights, with lands, castles, retainers and are on first name terms with Kings. And French in all but name. And remember, Robin Hood was a hero to the Saxons, fighting the Norman French. In Angus’ version, after Outlaw he is Norman French. They both speak fluent French, Alan is French, just with a name change and their King, Richard I, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Coeur de Lion, was French. It is estimated Richard spent as little as six months, in total, in England. Book three, King’s Man is also set in Europe, or France. Book four, Warlord pretty much all France, a brief dalliance in England, but nothing to get worked up about. Five, Grail Knight France again. Six’s The Iron Castle is ‘Chateau Gaillard’ – so you tell me where that is set. The King’s Assassin, book seven, will continue in much the same vein, it seems: “As rebellion brews across the country and Robin Hood and his men are dragged into the war against the French in Flanders…” Not Sherwood, where even Danes know Robin Hood lives. But Flanders where…no one ever thinks Robin Hood has been, let alone lived. That’s the problem that has developed for me and I’ll wager for a lot of casual readers, it isn’t about Robin of Sherwood. It’s not about Robin and there’s very, very little set in Sherwood.

Then, the ’friendship’ between Alan and Robin is largely one-way a lot of the time and in the most of the books, very little is returned. On either side. Often, though Alan professes his love for his Lord and ‘old friend’, it’s hard to see why he should feel that way. Clearly, we are to feel that the love that was generated in Outlaw sees Alan through the subsequent books. To be honest, were I Alan, I’d have told Robin to piss off a long time ago. Robin takes him away from where he wants to be, puts him in danger at every turn, talks to him like he is an errant, ignorant child and generally doesn’t do anything much – apart from lending him money – to deserve Alan’s professed devotion. Alan too, isn’t the outlaw band member. He’s mostly French (though in some of the books I’ve listened to on Audible, he’s had a strong Yorkshire accent) and thanks to Robin and King Richard, he’s a land-owning Knight and Lord. So, if you read what he says and think ‘English,’ think again. It is perhaps, or would have been, historically accurate, but it’s not what one thinks when one wants to hear in tales of Robin Hood. OK, maybe Angus thought that Robin and friends, in Sherwood, fighting the Sheriff, stealing/rich, giving/poor, was too limiting and that all that could be said, had been written. But I beg to differ. And that is partly based on the fantastic Robin (and Alan) he created in Outlaw and partly based on delivering on the ‘Meet the Godfather of Sherwood Forest’ tag-line of the first book.

By taking the two friends out of England, I’m afraid Angus has ‘ordinarified’ them. Alan is just another, often down-at-heel, wannabe Knight and Robin is a pretty ordinary schemer, charlatan, liar, cheat and Lord. Not even a rogue, loveable or otherwise. He has a lot of connections that pop up here and there, but his actual dealing with those connections, we don’t see. He does want to get back to England, back to his home, with his wife Mary-Ann (you see what he’s done there?) and live happily ever after, but…that home is in Yorkshire and his wife lives with their sons in France, has done for several books now and, if it were possible, seems to have even fewer links with England, than Robin.

However, (it’s not all bad) take the book(s) on face value, and you have a really excellent, action-packed, riveting read. Each story is superbly well-planned and executed, contains all the highs and lows you’re looking for in your fighting historical fiction and, in my humble opinion, contains some of the most poignant, thoughtful, though-provoking writing on friendship, longing, regret and hope, it has ever been my pleasure to come across. The Alan that we meet at the start and finish (and sometimes in between) of the books, is a magnificent creation and should have a book or two of his own. No doubts about it. The Iron Castle doesn’t disappoint either (unless you’re looking for Robin, in Sherwood, as above). It begins in 1203, at the end of the time of England’s possession of the territories in France that became the English King’s after The Norman Conquest (there is an absolutely superb Historical Note at the end that you really should stay on for. Angus could easily write (a) wonderful Non-Fiction history book(s) in the future). The majority of the action, takes place in and around the siege of the Iron Castle of Chateau Galliard as Alan and Robin are there to help save the castle from being captured by the French and thereby help King John save Normandy (Interestingly, only King John is the same as the character we know from the Robin Hood books and films). It is a tense struggle, full of incident and really well and effectively written for the action taking place in relatively confined spaces. It is also book looking at the concept of a man’s honour and the dependancy on it to the extent that someone hides behind their honour to cover their own shortcomings or wrong-doings. Robin might say “A man’s honour is the most important of his possessions” but Alan (standing in for us) experiences it in quite a different, more realistic way. Buy this book, enjoy it for what it is. Just don’t go thinking it’s about the Robin Hood you’re thinking of.

Me. On Goodreads.

Friday Book News – 16 May

All Kindles Lead to Rome
Exciting Roman news, if news about Roman stuff excites you. Yeah? Well, read on then…
Robert Fabbri announced he will have a new short-story exclusively out on Kindle, on 21 May.
The Racing FactionsIt’s kind of like a side-project of sorts, to his ‘day job’ of the Vespasian novels, the first of which, Vespasian Tribune of Rome, I read – and enjoyed – not so long ago. Featuring a character called Marcus Salvius  Magnus, it is in fact the second ‘side-story’ he has written, the first was called The Racing Factions. As the name possibly suggests, it was set in and around the chariot racing scene in ancient Rome and involved bets not being honoured, vengeance being extracted in the shady underworld of Rome and attempting to fix elections and chariot races. In The Dreams of Morpheus, they’re saying this will happen:

The Dreams of Morpheus

Rome, AD 34. Marcus Salvius Magnus, leader of the Crossroads Brotherhood, is searching for the resin of an eastern flower that can unlock the realm of Morpheus. His patron, Senator Pollo, needs it for the city’s most powerful woman, the Lady Antonia, in order to recoup a considerable debt.
Meanwhile, rebellion is in the air. The people in Magnus’ area believe they are being given short measure at the grain dole. As the Ides of October festival dawns bright and clear to celebrate the completion of agricultural and military campaigns, a violent riot erupts. Can Magnus help right the wrongs that have been perpetrated upon the stirred-up crowd?
In this exclusive e-novella for fans of the Vespasian series, Magnus must lead his men in securing a deal over the sale of the highly treasured resin, with its unique power to transport the taker to another place, whilst battling his way through Rome’s savage and corrupt political arena.

If you live in a land that allows Kindle downloads (to your Kindle device or iPhone app) you should commence rejoicing now, then pre-order. If you live in a land that doesn’t allow Kindle downloads, you may need to – ahem – jump through a few hoops…

Dreams of Morpheus on Amazon Kindle

The Racing Factions on Amazon Kindle

Hereward IV
When in Rome…the next in James Wilde’s Herward series ‘Wolves of New Rome’ has got a cover.
Hereward Wolves of New RomeAnd this is it.
Absolutely excellent that it is the same style as the previous three. Someone somewhere at James’ (UK) book company, knows how to do their job, eh? I have seen other series where they change the covers, even subtly (though non the less irritatingly) between three and four. Douglas Jackson’s ‘of Rome’ series springs immediately to mind. I can’t always guess why, but maybe they had agreed a trilogy of Herewards covering his ‘known’ life, or at least that we have other people from the period and after writing about him, with an option for (at least) a fourth. Here with James’ original three, maybe they thought he’d greater a strong enough brand with the guy who plays Hereward and the type, to carry the series onwards. As I say, as far as I can see, there isn’t a right lot of evidence, archaeological or otherwise, for Hereward outside his legend status. I haven’t read enough about Hereward after he leads the rebels to William the Conqueror at Ely and then goes off into the mists of history…to say what even the legends say happens next. Stewart Binns’ Hereward does go on to join the Varangian Guard, which is what James Wilde’s Hereward seems to be doing as well, so maybe there is some sort of legend of that happening. James in Hereward III, seemed to also be suggesting that Hereward could be the source of the robin Hood legends. If you’ve read Hereward III, you’ll know what I mean.
Can’t wait – well, I can obviously, but you get the idea – until 31 July (when Amazon say it is released).
James Wilde website
And speaking of Robin Hood…

The name is Hood, Robin Hood
OutlawThe title of the seventh book in Angus Donald‘s Robin Hood Outlaw Chronicles will be The Bloody Charter. I’m not gonna guess what it’s about just yet, but Angus says it will feature, or at least include, Robin’s (in Angus’ Robin Hood world, that is) two sons Miles and Hugh.
If you haven’t got started on this series yet, get stuck in now, you have a lot of reading pleasure ahead of you. If you’ve been in but not continued for any reason – get back in, the last published story Grail Knight, was absolutely excellent.
Here’s a handy, cut-out-and-keep guide to the books in the order you (not necessarily) need to be reading them in:

1. Outlaw   BUY
2. Holy Warrior   BUY
3. King’s Man   BUY
4. Warlord   BUY
5. Grail Knight   BUY
6. The Iron Castle (published 3 July)   ORDER
7. The Bloody Charter (published in 2015)

Click on the title, to go to my review of the book, click on BUY to order it.
I’ve linked here – and will do more and more in the future – to The Book Depository. TBD will send worldwide with free post and, in contrast to Amazon, do pay tax in the UK. I know TBD are owned by Amazon, but so long as Amazon don’t pay tax in the UK, but charge me for that tax, I won’t use them. Especially as well, as I have mentioned before, they won’t now send free to Denmark when ordering over £25. There are plenty of other places that are equally as good and which do pay tax.
There is even, in the UK, a movement to have customers boycott Amazon, until they pay proper tax. Like you and I do.
Check this article from The Guardian.

Review: Grail Knight

Grail Knight
Grail Knight by Angus Donald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to have to come right out and say it – I’m a huge fan of Angus Donald’s Outlaw Chronicles series. And Grail Knight is, in my humble opinion, his best yet.

I’m also a huge fan of Angus’ Alan Dale. Especially he ‘old’ one, the narrator, at the start and end of the books. The books hinge on Alan. He is the main character. He is doing the remembering and the telling of the stories and they are from his point of view. The old Alan writes with such pathos and feeling as though only now can he understand what the young Alan doesn’t always. About what he got mixed up in – and had to fight his way out of – and about Robin Hood and his own relationship with him. I, for one, would think there is mileage in a book solely of ‘old’ Alan’s reflections and his life ’now,’ the period when he’s recounting the tales of his youth. Check out the vivid, almost Disney-esque descriptions of Sherwood near the start and tell me that couldn’t hold its own throughout a whole novel. There you go.

Grail Knight was set up nicely in the previous book, ‘Warlord’ and gets going from the off. But not how you’re thinking. Not with a “Hey! Let’s go look for the Grail!”, from the start. It’s more subtle than that. The story casts out several strands, builds seemingly in other directions but then comes together to coalesce (if strands can coalesce) into that noblest of Middle Ages quests. But the reasons and the thinking behind the quest, from the characters and Angus here, are if you’re up for it, very interesting.

Of course, in the period the book is set, the Middle Ages, it is impossible to avoid talk of religion. It was, it seems, much more a part of peoples’ daily lives, than we can possibly imagine. In Angus Donald’s Outlaw series, there are often what seems like the equivalent of two religions they didn’t understand, fighting for control over their lives. Christianity maybe the ‘official’ religion, but people, out in the fields and forests, still need the help found in an older religion. Many have replaced faith in the gods and goddesses of the fields and the trees and the pools, with faith in other, newer kinds of equally inanimate objects that may or may not have had some connection with the new, one God. Which is how the book starts, with Alan trying to make sense of people putting faith in an ordinary-looking old flask they say was given to their priest in a dream. But which Alan knows he bought for a few coins in France, when he needed something to drink from. The book is in some ways an interesting exploration of who is right. The Grail of the title is nothing special to look at either. Angus goes for the idea that it was a fairly ordinary bowl, used by Jesus and the disciples at the last supper to mix wine in, but then held His blood, or drops thereof, at the time of His crucifixion. It is only special because of what it is believed to have contained. As is Alan’s flask. The Grail, many people believe, has power because of what it contained. Alan believes his flask could have the power he wants it to have, for the same reasons.

So, what Alan has to wrestle with is the, to him, absurdity, though sometimes the necessity, of trusting in or believing in, something you know cannot be what it seems others want it to be. During the novel, as events unfold, his view doesn’t exactly change, but he becomes more understanding. If someone thinks something can or did do what they said, who is he to contradict their belief? Alan, while having absolute faith in something, someone, he has never seen but has been told controls every aspect of his life, struggles to understand others’ faith in something they can see, right in front of them. Is it the ‘real’ grail they find? It is if enough people believe it is. It is, even if you’re the only person who believes it is. It is if Robin Hood tells you it is what you’re looking for. Interesting.

Grail Knight is an excellent, all-action, full-blooded story on – at least – a couple of levels and one which will reward you richly however you come at it. There is derring-do, there are narrow escapes against impossible odds. Nemeses are confronted, cultures clashed. Other varieties of Christianities looked at. There is remorse and redemption, friends measured and tested and some found wanting. There are other shocks and plenty of ‘endings’ (for various characters and not all of the at the point of a sword kind) a-plenty too, especially in the second half. Angus makes some very brave decisions on his characters’ behalf (you may need to set your face to stun on a couple of occasions). But they are the right decisions, as there can be no doubt now that Angus OWNS Sherwood, Robin and all.

If there was one way I think Angus could improve the series, it would be to have more tales set in England. His characters have ranged far and wide down the five books and I think that it is time to take them back to their mythological roots. He has reinvented the characters, yes, but he should be wary of taking them too far away from what it could be argued, people know and love about them. I have no idea what the storyline for ‘The Iron Castle’ is, but if that too involves foreign travel, so be it. The next one then should be set in England, in Sherwood (and not in caves) and feature the sherrif, or someone similar.

As I’ve tried to say, Grail Knight is a beautifully planned and executed novel. Richly imagined, I would think is the way reviewers would describe it. I really couldn’t have enjoyed its thrilling and rewarding tale if I’d tried. If you thought that with book number five an author could perhaps be forgiven, that it might even be understandable, for taking his or her foot off the gas, eye off the ball. Then with Angus, you need to think again. Grail Knight will be a tough act to follow, but then I’ve thought that sort of thing with Angus before. I thought King’s Man would be difficult to follow, but he proved me wrong and I’m so much looking forward to being proved wrong again, when Alan and Robin – and some of the others from Sherwood – return for book six The Iron Castle – very soon.

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Friday Book News 11 April

As my sight is returning, slowly, to something in the vicinity of normal, my snazzy new magnifying glass reveals that…

Dark City BlueOut Of ExileLuke Preston, the terrible infant (where DID I put that French dictionary?) of Australian e-novels,  or something like that, says he is nominated for a prize.
It’s the International Thriller Writers 2014 Awards and Luke is in the running for BEST EBOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL.

Other, clearly not as important, sections are Best Hardcover Novel, Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original Novel, Best Short Story, Best Young Adult Novel,
You can see all the award categories and all the other runners and riders, here.

It seems that poor old Luke will have to turn up in person in NYC to collect his prize, should he win. I haven’t seen the odds yet, but it could be worth a flutter.
The 2014 ITW Thriller Award Winners will be announced at ThrillerFest IX, July 12, 2014, at the Grand Hyatt, New York City.

Dark City Blue is available at Amazon as paperback, or Kindle
Out of Exile is available as a Kindle edition only as yet.

Whose castle is this?!

OutlawAngus Donald reports from a warm typewriter, somewhere in the south east of England, that whilst the book hasn’t got a cover sorted yet,

The Iron Castle (book 6) is finished. Written, edited, proofread.”

The Iron Castle, as Angus so rightly observes there, will be book number 6 in his fantastic, the original and best, Outlaw Chronicles. And will be unleashed July 3rd. So that gives you plenty of time to get the first five read, doesn’t it?

You can and indeed should, order The Iron Castle on Amazon.

Far Fetched

The Forgotten LegionThe Silver EagleTheRoadToRomeIf you have read, even if you haven’t but have merely glanced at the backs of, some of Ben Kane‘s early books, that’ll be The Forgotten Legion trilogy then, you may be interested in this article. It comes from The Daily Telegraph (UK) and appears to show that researchers have genetic evidence of contact between a ‘forgotten’ legion (or two) of Roman soldiers and people in China. Villagers in the remote north west of China have been tested and been found to have DNA which suggests they have had contact with Europeans, evidencing Roman-like features. Long noses, some with fair hair, a tendency to wear togas and stab each other in the back (except the toga wearing and the stabbing each other in the back). Check it out back there, or here.

(The sub-head above, comes from the late, lamented father of a friend of mine, who sometimes used to describe something he thought was unlikely, as being ‘like shit from China. Far fetched’)

Just a short one this week, as I’ve been on ‘late shifts’ at the hospital and with the times of those shifts being nicely in the middle of the day, it means I’ve not had much time before or after.

Friday Book News!

Is actually on a Friday!

If you can wait that long…well, I suppose you (and I) are going to have to wait that long…the next by Bernard Cornwell (probably not the very next by Bernard Cornwell, as he’s probably got half a dozen Sharpes and several other standalone books out before then) but the next in his Warrior Chronicles (I think it is called this week) the follow up to The Pagan Lord, is out 23 October. You can pre-order it now on Amazon, here. Amazon have it listed as Warrior Chronicles 8, so I’d say there needs to be some work done on that title before publication day. I can’t see it available for pre-order elsewhere as yet.

Speaking of new books and new book covers and no covers…Angus Donald has the paperback of Grail Knight (book five in The Outlaw Chronicles series) coming out on May 8th. As Angus quite rightly points out in a new blog post, the paperback has a new cover. Being pedantic (as I am); it never actually had an old cover. The thing is the paperback has a different cover to the hardback.

Grail KnightGrail Knight PaperbackHere they are for you to compare and contrast.

The hardback is on the left, the paperback on the right.

I liked the hardback cover very much when I saw it, but I think the paperback cover has improved on it. As I look at the two now, I think hardback – passive, paperback – active. If I may go out on a limb here, I’d say the paperback cover as it appears now on Amazon’s UK page for it, is actually the US version. Purely for the inclusion of ‘a novel…’, something for some reason, US publishers seem to think their readers need to be told/warned about.

You can order the paperback of Grail Knight from Amazon here. You can order it at The Book Depository here.

Book six in The Outlaw Chronicles, The Iron Castle, could be describes as being ‘in the can’, were it a film. As it’s a book, it at the publisher, having Angus’ notes, coffee stains, margin shopping lists and doodles tippexed out, ready to be printed. The liquid paper should be dry around the 3rd of July, when Amazon have it down as being released. They don’t have a cover shown for it as yet. I’ll keep ’em peeled for it.

Pre-order The Iron Castle at Amazon

Pre-order The Iron Castle at The Book Depository

If you are a fan of Angus’ Outlaw Chronicles – as any sane person is – you really should go read his blog post (here’s the link again), as there is very good news regarding the future of his series.

Berwick Coates - The Last ConquestOne I’m enjoying very much at the moment, is The Last Conquest, by Berwick Coates.

The Last Viking

And I notice that what appears to be the next by him they’re calling the new BC, The Last Viking, is out around the 10th of April.

From the sales blurb:

With the death of Edward the Confessor, the crown of England is hanging in the balance. And in the north Harald Hadrada, the Norwegian Viking leader, is determined to take his chance of capturing the country. But Harold will not let that happen without a fight. Charismatic and the leader of a mighty army, he is determined to make Hadrada the last Viking in England. And so the bloodiest battle yet fought on English soil is about to begin. At stake is sovereignty, freedom and honour.

That would make it seem, chronologically, to be set before The Last Conquest…interesting trick, if he can pull it off. I’ll be seeing said trick (hopefully) being pulled off, as I have taken the precaution of pre-ordering it, in all its signed goodness, from Goldsboro Books this time.

Otherwise, it’s at Amazon, here.

Or The Book Depository, here.

Happy reading!

Review: Warlord

Warlord by Angus Donald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How good it is to be back with Angus, Alan, Hanno and…the other bloke…oh yes, Robin of Locksley. How I’ve missed them.

So, what’s been a-happenin’ while I’ve been away?

Well, before we start, at the end of King’s Man there was a really poignant, thoughtful passage from the elder Alan Dale, musing on his life as the younger Alan. The memories were fresh, the people he knew still young, vibrant and alive. Never to weary, grow old or fade. A lovely ending to a superb book. So it was with no little anticipation, even excitement (I know, pathetic, isn’t it?) that I opened Warlord, the 4th in Angus Donald’s heroic re-imagining of the Robin Hood legends.

So, in King’s Man, Alan Dale seemed to be becoming more independent of Robin. Still a part of Robin’s band and one of his friends, not entirely stepping out of his shadow, but certainly seeing himself as, and being treated more and more like, an equal. That independence could be said to have come to fulfilment here in Warlord. Which is a book about Alan. His circumstances, his past and what is making him tick. Robin Hood actually only first makes an appearance on page 71. As I’ve mentioned before, Alan Dale is more of the centre for the ‘Outlaw’ tales’ focus than the reviews and the hype around a ‘new interpretation of the Robin Hood legend’ would have you believe. The books (I’ve read so far) could equally be about the legend of Alan Dale – and his friend/Lord/Master/protector/ally, Robin Hood. However, that probably wouldn’t sell books by the truckload, no matter how much more accurate it would actually be. And that’s probably why I’m not working in publishing right now.

Anyone could have written a series of books – indeed many anyones have and are still doing so – about Robin Hood’s life and times, narrated by and with Robin in the centre. But by looking slightly to the side, by actually writing about Alan, Angus is able to both root the stories in the historical reality of the period (so much as we are sure about), and also show his ideas for the (legendary, but most likely fictional) character of Robin Hood. By comparing and contrasting the Robin Hood of his legend, with what must have been typical behaviour for a chivalrous Knight of the period. Alan is much more than just the narrator however, which was my thought when I read the first few pages of the first book. He is far from a passive observer. His strong Christian beliefs are the light, while Robin and his more Pagan, more earthy, perhaps more real-world values, is (in) the shadow(s) created by that light. Because Robin doesn’t share Alan’s beliefs and seems more of a carefree, seize each opportunity as it comes, no matter from whence it comes, sort of character, it isn’t always plain-sailing between the two. In Alan’s view Robin is, more often than not, just a money-grabbing, opportunist god-less Pagan. Sometimes, only Alan’s respect for Robin’s sense of unquestioning loyalty in protecting those inside his family circle, keeps the two together. My thought is, that what perhaps makes Angus’s Robin appealing to us heathen sinners of today, is that Robin is actually like more like we are nowadays than Alan ever can be. I certainly have found some of Alan’s decisions only really understandable, if I try to imagine I’m back living in the late 12th Century.

The story told in Warlord, is actually a very interesting medieval mystery period piece, set in what we now call northern France. To have Alan at least in some way involved with the later life and death of Richard, Warlord has to be set in France. But to cope with the risk of readers being unable to identify with the Robin Hood legend going on in various 12th Century, not actually France places (and not swinging through the trees of Sherwood, drinking in ‘The Trip To Jerusalem’ and singe-ing the Sheriff of Nottingham’s beard), he concentrates his story’s focus on the tale of Alan’s search for the truth surrounding his father’s expulsion and death. In northern France. And ‘France’, we should remember, plays a very important part in the world of these English heroes. The characters speak French. They actually ARE French, for all intents and purposes. Alan is really Allan D’Alle, son of a French father, Henri. And Richard, Richard Cœur de Lion, the ‘Lionheart’ is in France, because it was his home. Because he is Duke of Normandy first and foremost. He might have been born in Oxford – only 91 years after Hastings – he spoke no English and was, during the 10 years of his reign, only actually in England for a total of six months. It’s only Robin that’s truly English and he’s the heathen. No change there, then.

Alan is in France at Richard’s request and the book opens with him riding headlong into trouble, to try and break the siege of a castle loyal to Richard, which is surrounded by the vastly superior forces of the King of (most of the rest of) France. They cling on to the castle, after many sterling deeds of derring-do, by the skin of their teeth. Then, Richard arrives, full of the joys of spring, and they have to move on, chasing ever after the cowardly French King. Alan can’t do much other than be told where to go and who to fight by Richard, but eventually does get time off for good behaviour to go on a quest of his own. He has spoken with a priest who knew his father and might be able to shed some light on his father’s background in France, the circumstances surrounding his expulsion and possibly who the mysterious figure, the ‘man you cannot refuse’, who might be behind his death, is. While he gets plenty of information from this priest, he also hears plenty that both disquiets him and shrouds his fathers past in yet more layers of mystery. Alan follows the trail through various regions of France all the way to Paris. Noting on his way, that the people who have information he might find useful, have a nasty habit of dying. Before, during and after they’ve spoken to him. When he finds the truth, and the reason behind the truth, it has been both staring him in the face and turns out to be way more dangerous than he could imagine. No one escapes Alan’s suspicion, not even Robin. He knows more than he’s letting on. Could he even have had some part in it all?

The main action of Warlord does seem to end a little early, to allow the next in the series, Grail Knight to be set up, but that apart, Warlord is a passionate, full-on, full-blooded, medieval tale of mystery and suspense. Events happen thick and fast; as you’d want them to, not always as you’d expect and not always as you’d actually want them too. And it whets the appetite for Grail Knight. Sitting on the shelf over there *points over there*

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